by Séamus Leonard
The ‘Drive for Five’ should come to a conclusion on Sunday when Kilkenny take on Tipperary in an All-Ireland final which will go down in the annals one way or another.
A win for Kilkenny would see them collect their fifth Liam McCarthy Cup in a row, a feat no side has managed before.
Victory for Tipperary would earn them a 26th All-Ireland crown, but more importantly would place them in the same category as the Offaly football side that prevented Kerry achieving five in-a-row in 1982.
A draw would be historic in its own way in that there has not been one at this stage of the Championship since 1959 when Waterford needed a replay to overcome Kilkenny.
There has understandably been huge speculation over what affect the pressure will have on Kilkenny, but the Cats have endured this all before and have yet to buckle.
Perhaps purposely, Brian Cody’s men had an indifferent league campaign. However their progress to this decider has been text book, with Dublin, Galway and Cork put to the sword with the minimum of fuss.
The only complications the Leinster champions, who are looking to win their 22nd consecutive Championship match, have endured this year are injuries.
But despite several scares, the only definite non-starter for Kilkenny is broken finger victim Brian Hogan.
Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson have both made seemingly miraculous recoveries from cruciate ligament injuries, but it remains to be seen if either, or both, will start the game.
Shefflin could possibly be asked to do a Peter Canavan by being substituted and reintroduced late on to give a boost to the Cats should the game be in the melting pot.
And there is no reason to believe it won’t. Tipperary have been a growing force in recent seasons and but for Benny Dunne’s red card and a dodgy penalty they could easily have prevented Kilkenny completing their four in-a-row last September.
Their unsuccessful National League campaign may well have been a hangover from that devastating defeat, but it could hardly be used as an excuse for their abject display when Cork blew them away at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the start of the summer.
A lesser team may have thrown in the towel, but the Premier men regrouped and worked their way quietly and efficiently through the qualifiers before emerging with a one-point win after an absorbing quarter-final against Galway.
Waterford were then disposed of in the semis, in a game which could end up being the swansong for some of the Déise’s finest-ever players.
Perhaps the most important improvement for manager Liam Sheedy has been his bench. Matching Kilkenny’s first XV is no longer good enough. You must have quality in reserve to match the standard of player Cody can call upon.
Should Sunday’s game not go according to plan, Tipp have the likes of Seamus Callanan, Pat Kerwick, Benny Dunne and Conor O’Mahony ready and waiting to do a job.
Kilkenny have been unbelievable for the past half decade, but unbeaten records are there to be ended and it is merely a question of when, rather than if, Cody’s men will sample the rare taste of Championship defeat.
They are unquestionably the greatest team of all time, but 2010 may be Tipperary’s year.